The Anatolian Shepherd Dog originated in Turkey, and it is estimated that the breed may be as many as 6,000 years old. It originally was used as a combat dog for fighting and hunting large game, including lions and horses. The breed eventually was used to protect livestock from wild predators, and its size, coat and color evolved so that the breed would blend in with the flocks that it guarded. Anatolian Shepherds were bred to have a strong and independent nature, so that they could manage and protect livestock without constant attention from their owners. The breed’s strength and speed are legendary, and they can thrive in both hot summers and cold winters.
In 1967, Lt. Robert Ballard of the US Navy acquired a pair of working shepherd puppies when he was stationed in Turkey. He brought them to America upon the end of his duty, where they produced their first litter in 1970. Their offspring became the foundation for the Anatolian Shepherd Dog in the United States. The Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America was formed in 1970. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1975 as being eligible to show in its Miscellaneous class starting in 1996. In June 1998, the AKC gave full recognition to the Anatolian Shepherd Dog effective June 1999, as a member of the Working Group. There is some dispute as to the precise origin of the breed.
Dog enthusiasts within Turkey dispute that the American Anatolian Shepherd is a true Turkish flock guardian. Instead, those experts recognize three distinct regional flock-guarding breeds: the Akbash in the wes of Turkey, the Kangal in the central region, and the Kars in the east. The American Anatolian Shepherd is thought to have derived from Turkish flock-guarding dogs of varying type, temperament and coloration, which initially did not breed true to type. While this debate goes on even today, many authorities agree that there are four distinct Turkish flock-guardian breeds: 1) the Anatolian Shepherd Dog, which has been refined in America, crossed with true-breeding Kangal Dogs and now itself breeds true; 2) the Akbash Dog; 3) the Kangal Dog; and 4) the Kars Dog. Turkish canine experts remain of the belief that the American Anatolians are highly variable in type, despite the addition of many Kangal Dog crosses.
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog has spread throughout the United States into Canada, Mexico, Japan and Europe. They still vary in color – some have black heads, while others are white-headed. Their tail tends to hang low until they are excited, when it quickly curls up over the back in typical spitz-like fashion. While with firm and careful training Anatolians can become trusted pets, their instinct is to be distrustful of strangers and to treat them all as a significant threat. According to one author: “When arriving at our home, neither long-term friends nor strangers would be foolish enough to get out of their cars. They must sit there patiently and await the arrival of the dogs’ owners.” Today’s Anatolian Shepherd Dogs retain their traits of being naturally imposing, ferociously strong and intensely protective.
The average life span of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog is 10 to 13 years. Breed health concerns may include cancer, ear infections, entropion, hip dysplasia and hypothyroidism. Otherwise, they appear to be healthy, hearty dogs.